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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch


(Reprinted from the issue of January 25, 2007)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for QuicksandMost of the pundits agreed that President Bush’s televised “surge” speech had failed. It was uninspired, he delivered it without conviction, and it didn’t even produce a slight bump in the polls. The Democrats, no longer shocked and awed, attacked it, and some Republicans joined them, Sen. Chuck Hagel calling it the worst foreign policy mistake since the Vietnam War; few Republicans were hardy enough to support it. Bush himself seemed demoralized as he delivered the speech, as if he didn’t even expect anyone to believe him. It struck me as the weariest hype I have ever seen.

But he hinted that Iran still poses a threat to the United States. Are we back in the “mushroom cloud” phase so soon? Will he dare to widen the war, in a desperate, double-or-nothing bet on fortune? That is of course what John McCain and the neoconservatives hope he will do. Will the Democrats dare to oppose him if he does?

Backers of the war demanded that the Democrats offer an alternative to the Iraq surge; but after all, it’s a lot easier to get into quicksand than to get out of it, and the Democrats aren’t quite bold enough to vote to cut off funding for the war or to demand an immediate withdrawal. That would be politically dangerous. Better to let Bush have his way and take all the heat until he leaves office. If he’s in a hole and wants to keep digging, why try to stop him? So what if he expands the war? What’s bad for the country may be good for the Democratic Party in 2008. The “new direction” Nancy Pelosi promises can wait until then. Meanwhile, any hope of a conservative agenda is in ruins. Bush’s agenda is to fight to the finish — endlessly.

It may be idle speculation to ask, but can Congress declare peace? It gave Bush a vague mandate for his war on “terrorism” — an undefined enemy — and allowed him to fill in the blanks. Bush has taken his constitutional role as commander in chief of the armed forces in time of war to mean that he is a “decider” who can pretty much define the limits of his own authority.

That way lies dictatorship. The basic idea of the U.S. Constitution, after all, is the rejection of arbitrary one-man rule, and it is no accident that the two presidents the neocons most venerate are the two most dictatorial, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. Their motto seems to be, “George, be a king!” But most of the country now agrees that if we are doomed to have one-man rule, the one man should be someone other than George W. Bush.

Obama Nation?

Sen. Barack Obama, the latest Flavor of the Month, has taken a step toward becoming our next one-man ruler by announcing that he will soon announce whether ... well, he’s reached the exploratory committee stage. Look out, Hillary!

Can he be stopped? I think so. Unless I am mistaken, the Obama craze in the media is already losing steam. It started when he outshone the drab John Kerry during the 2004 Democratic convention. The nation’s journalists, like a bunch of desperate housewives, were in the mood for someone new and exciting.

Did Obama lack experience, especially in foreign policy? Yes, of course, but so what? Older politicians and their servile “experts” had given experience a bad name. Even an unknown quantity was more alluring than what we were used to. Hillary may still have the inside track for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes them!but many Democrats are afraid she can’t win. She irritates too many people, and Obama makes her seem a bit old hat.

Such an earnest, appealing young man! The trouble is that Obama is really not much more than a champion high-school orator. Everyone agrees that he is intelligent and impressive and has a great future ahead of him, and a lack of “experience” also means a lack of baggage. If he has one proven gift, it is for not making enemies. He is a black who doesn’t antagonize whites, a liberal who doesn’t alarm conservatives, a Bill Clinton who doesn’t chase women. Like Clinton, he can leave everyone in the room feeling he is so reasonable they can’t really disagree with him.

The truth is that nobody can possibly fulfill the messianic hopes Obama arouses. His advantage at the moment is that each of his rivals has known negatives, and he doesn’t. Not yet, anyway. But the Clintons are doubtless working to fix that. Before you know it, Obama will probably be trying to explain away embarrassing allegations about his past and our political life will have returned to what we have come to think of as normal.

Keeping the Dream Alive

As I write, a Spanish newspaper has published an unconfirmed report that Fidel Castro is finally about to leave this world. Can it be? Can we pray that he will finally repent?

At any rate, he leaves a devoted successor of sorts in Venezuela’s odious Hugo Chavez, who presumably thinks he has no reason to repent. Chavez has blasphemously called Jesus Christ “the greatest socialist who ever lived,” overlooking the minor difference that Jesus, unlike Castro, managed to serve the poor without firing squads.

As the late Jean-François Revel observed, most regimes are judged by their records, but Communism is judged by its promises. What Revel called “the totalitarian temptation” is still with us. Men like Chavez will see to it that it doesn’t die with Fidel.

Does Anyone Notice?

Unless you’re a bigger lacrosse fan than I am — or even if you are — you probably know more than you want to know about the Duke University lacrosse team. The story of the collapsing rape charges is one of those local stories, like that of the runaway bride a couple of years ago, that take on lives of their own in the news media and become unavoidable.

Yet something has been missing in the saturation coverage. A serious injustice has been done, the district attorney has acted disgracefully, and so forth. But is hiring a stripper to entertain at a party now considered normal behavior for college athletes? Once upon a time, such a thing would have been grounds for expulsion. Today it goes unremarked, like the continuing moral deterioration of American life in general.

“If Islam is a religion of peace, why are there so many fights in the NBA?” Regime Change Begins at Home — a new selection of my Confessions of a Reactionary Utopian — will brighten your odd moments. If you have not seen my monthly newsletter yet, give my office a call at 800-513-5053 and request a free sample of SOBRANS, or better yet, subscribe for two years for just $85. New subscribers get two gifts with their subscription. More details can be found at the Subscription page of my website.

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Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2007 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission

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